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How are patents becoming increasingly important in virtual and augmented reality?

Audio-video technology continues to explode and in turn, virtual reality and augmented reality technology are two of the hottest commodities in the technology field. While most people are familiar with the concept of virtual reality, many don’t understand augmented reality, the difference between the two, or how the small players are impacting the industry and increasing the importance of patents moving forward.


Virtual Reality has been a buzz word for a while now and most understand the basic concept. While most people think of video game applications and other multi-media, the world of Virtual Reality is expanding way past the entertainment market and into the healthcare market, education, retail and engineering just to name a few. Augmented reality is catching up fast. Currently, the combined market is estimated to span anywhere from $80B to $182B by the year 2025. Recent developing technologies 5G wireless broadband and Internet-of-Things will support VR and AR technology in a way that will certainly help the technology to expand to many more fields.


The start-ups and smaller companies have been at the center of it all. These companies are receiving large amounts of funding from the big players, in turn making them key acquisition targets. Magic Leap is one such example. They are one of the fastest growing VR/AR startup companies and have raised around $1.42 billion, drawing $542 million from Google.

To date, most patent owners of this technology have not felt it necessary to exercise their patent power and go after other companies, but as this technology continues to grow, so does this multi-billion-dollar ecosystem and it is only a matter of time until they begin to use the power of their patent to drive out those who are mimicking their technology.

The difference between the two is important in regards to future patent issues. We’ll start with virtual reality. This technology creates an artificial immersive experience for the user and while the primary areas this is currently seen include the multi-media and gaming areas, this technology will continue to expand into the healthcare, retail and training fields. Currently, Sony dominates the patent landscape for Virtual Reality, followed by IBM, Samsung and Microsoft. Sony currently holds about 800 issued patents and published applications. This is spread out among 150 inventions. Another player LG, has an astounding 1,000 issued patents and published applications in 16 different countries spread out over only 13 inventions. Players such as LG are aiming for broad geographic coverage. Next come the non-VR players who have strategically acquired companies with a diverse VR background. Facebook recognized the potential here and jumped in feet first by acquiring Oculus VR for $2 billion in 2014. Along with the many smaller companies that are being watched closely by big players or already acquired, there are personal inventors in play as well.


Next is Augmented Reality. This technology integrates real-world environment with computer-generated information, graphics and sound in the form of an overlay. Mixed Reality is an even further advanced version of Augmented Reality that features the interaction of virtual objects and real-world objects. The current leader of Augmented Reality is Microsoft with 602 issued patents and published applications spread over 151 inventions. Samsung, Sony, LG and Qualcomm follow Microsoft. Around 2014, Microsoft and Google began acquiring start-ups in this field. Despite not being strong in AR, Apple acquired two of the strongest startups that operate in the augmented reality space, thus demonstrating the importance of such companies in the future.


What does all of this mean in terms of the importance of patents in the future? Since Facebook acquired Oculus in 2014, the news has been flooded with acquisitions, product launches and collaborations. With the influx of companies operating in these fields, it has become important to understand the technology and the competitive aspects from the smaller players standpoint. This helps identify the most promising technologies and segregation of the high-value patents from the expanding pool of patents moving forward.

While these technologies span over quite a diverse portfolio today, this will only continue to grow along with the acquisitions of start-ups and small companies. At KISS Patent, we know start-up-companies because we are one. We help you protect your valuable ideas and would love to help answer any questions you might have.